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Thread: Good Tone - How long does it actually take?

  1. #1
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    Default Good Tone - How long does it actually take?

    I'm usually the first one to reply to these threads, and my answer is always the same - "Scales and scales and scales and scales" I say. "Consistent right hand attack for consistent dynamics." "Hit that sweet spot right behind the fret." "Do exercises to see how little left hand finger pressure it takes to make a clean note."

    And I'm the first one to chime into these threads simply BECAUSE, in my opinion, my tone & dynamics are so atrocious.

    So I'm running those scales, and doing those picking exercises, and running MORE scales. And it seems like when I go to play my fiddle tunes my tone is STILL awful.

    I console myself that I am still very much a beginner on mandolin. And it is unreasonable to expect a beginner to sound any way other than like a beginner.

    But how many months of running scales and doing exercises and playing fiddle tunes badly do you have to go through before you start to have consistent good tone?
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    Default Re: Good Tone - How long does it actually take?

    Try a large variety of different pick-to-string attack angles, fluidly pivoting the pick between your thumb and index fingers to achieve them. That's where tone is made.

    Then add dynamic volume control via both pick angle and picking pressure. Practice playing so softly that a person next to you cannot hear you, then slowly increase pick pressure and/or pick angle so you go from very soft to very loud.

    Tone and dynamic volume are the key.

    Then all your other practicing will take care of speed and accuracy.

    If these come naturally to you it could just take a few months. If you have to work at it like the rest of us, it could take the rest of your life.
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    Default Re: Good Tone - How long does it actually take?

    Good days, bad days.

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    Default Re: Good Tone - How long does it actually take?

    You recognize where you are at. That is a huge first step. Some people never get there. The worst players all think they are great.

    The best players still have bad days and still think they suck. I heard Mark Cosgrove say at Kaufmann Kamp that he did not think he was all that good. I was amazed that he could possibly think that.

    Someone asked guitarist David Grier, in an IBMA workshop, why he could not play like David. David said "That's because you suck.......but it is ok because we all suck. I just suck on a different level."

    One other way of approaching things is to slow down.....slow down a whole, whole lot. Play at a speed that you cannot miss notes and can always get good tone even if it is funeral dirge speed. Spend time on waltzes and vocal tunes and slower songs to get your mechanics and tone right. Playing fiddle tunes at speed takes a huge lot of practice. Even play those way slow. The speed will come eventually. Maybe or maybe not.

    Things like Ashokan's Farewell, Kentucky Waltz, Midnight on the Water, Bonaparte Crossing the Rhine, Ookpik Waltz, Lonesome Moonlight Waltz are all beautiful tunes and great bluegrass tunes that are not at breakneck speed. They emphasize tone. A lot of the Steven Foster things, like Hard Times Come Again No More or most of the Carter Family songs can be played at reasonable tempos and are great for building tone and expression.

    Can you get good tone playing one note? If not start there. Find out why. It may be the instrument or it may be your technique. Can you get it playing two or three in a row? If not figure out where it breaks down.

    Let go of any schedule or expectation of being at a certain level at a certain time. Paradoxically you progress better and faster if you quit worrying about how long it takes. Everyone is different. It takes what time it takes.


    p.s. I am not a huge fan of scales. I would not dispense with them altogether but if you are playing way more scales and exercises than tunes and songs that percentage should be reversed. If you want to get good at playing tunes and songs then practice playing tunes and songs. And do not neglect rhythm playing and accompaniment. You will do far more of that in jams and performance than you will play leads.

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    Registered User Jill McAuley's Avatar
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    Default Re: Good Tone - How long does it actually take?

    One other thing to keep an eye on re: good tone - make sure you're not lifting your fretting finger too soon, can be quite common to lift the finger fretting the note before the note gets to fully sound.
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    Default Re: Good Tone - How long does it actually take?

    for the violin it took about 2000 hours for me started at 62.

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    Default Re: Good Tone - How long does it actually take?

    Are you taking lessons from an advanced-level player? If no, why not? In New England, there are a sh*t-ton of great mandolinists.
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    Default Re: Good Tone - How long does it actually take?

    I'm relatively new to mandolin, and I find, for me, that fiddle tunes are not the most conducive to developing tone. The reason being that so many fiddle tunes are all about continuous rolls of eighth notes so that there is less of a "premium" on each individual note. I spend a lot of time on slow, melodic tunes so that the importance of each individual note is heightened and the only way to make it interesting is to milk maximum tone and feeling out of each individual note. Think Grisman on Tone Poems or Reischman tunes such as Anise's Lulaby.

  14. #9
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    Default Re: Good Tone - How long does it actually take?

    Quote Originally Posted by musicofanatic View Post
    Are you taking lessons from an advanced-level player? If no, why not? In New England, there are a [radio edit] of great mandolinists.
    I called around to the various music schools in my area. Most of those seem to be focused on teaching piano to 8 year-olds and guitar to teenagers, and one that is, oddly, focused on accordion.

    I attended a Wernick Jam Camp the other weekend. The woman who runs it also runs the New Hampshire Fiddlehead Ensemble and the NH Acoustic Roots Orchestra. I figured if anyone knew someone who could offer face to face mandolin lessons it would be her.

    But she e-mailed me back and said she wasn't familiar with my part of the state.
    Eastman MD-514 (F body, Sitka & maple, oval hole)
    Kentucky KM-250 (A body, spruce & maple, f holes)

    And still saving my nickles & dimes & bottle caps & breakfast cereal box tops for my lifetime mandolin.

  15. #10

    Default Re: Good Tone - How long does it actually take?

    Contact Carlton Page, who is around the Concord area. He used to teach at Strings and Things in Concord.

    https://stringsandthingsmusic.com/pages/carleton-page


    And yes, there are a lot of mandolinists in New England, but no one seems to be doing a lot of teaching outside of the community music schools. The passing of David Surette has left a lot of mandolin students in Concord and the Seacoast area in a quandary.

    Dan, if you want to drive the hour down to Eliot the second and fourth Sunday of the month we have a jam, with at least four or five mandolin players at a local Wellness center. We use the yoga room for our session. all skill levels.

    There's plenty of parking. Somewhere in the jams and get together section is the info. Found the listing here:

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/t...y-Acoustic-Jam


    But it's off route 236, which is accessible from route 1 and I95. Next Sunday is our next session- 3-5pm. PM me if you are interested. Val, who I believe you met at Jam Camp, is generally there.
    Last edited by Mandobar; Sep-18-2022 at 10:04am.
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  16. #11

    Default Re: Good Tone - How long does it actually take?

    Hi Dan, Your original post shows that you're aware of what techniques are generally helpful to producing good tone. You mention that you're a beginner but don't say how long you've been at it. Some ideas off the top of my head:
    •pick- if you're using a lighter pick, that could be the culprit. Mandolin's doubled courses at high tension really do better with thicker picks. 1.3-1.5mm seems to be the sweetspot for many. Along with this is pick angle, there's good YouTube videos on this.
    •setup- if your mandolin hasn't been set up by a professional who's well experienced in mandolins, it's worth the money. A good setup will be easier to note and can sound better too.
    •the instrument- have you listened to an experienced player play your Kentucky? Is it astoundingly better in his hands? Since you sound serious about this venture, there's a good chance you'll end up moving up to the next level of instruments eventually. Unfortunately for you, that's in the $2-3k zone. If your present mandolin is well set up and you sound way better on a better instrument, then that's change you need to consider.

  17. #12
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    Default Re: Good Tone - How long does it actually take?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandobar View Post
    Contact Carlton Page, who is around the Concord area. He used to teach at Strings and Things in Concord.

    https://stringsandthingsmusic.com/pages/carleton-page
    That's actually someone that Ellen from the Jam camp recommended. An hour drive, north or south, is a bit much, though.
    Eastman MD-514 (F body, Sitka & maple, oval hole)
    Kentucky KM-250 (A body, spruce & maple, f holes)

    And still saving my nickles & dimes & bottle caps & breakfast cereal box tops for my lifetime mandolin.

  18. #13
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    Default Re: Good Tone - How long does it actually take?

    Quote Originally Posted by Rob Roy View Post
    Hi Dan, Your original post shows that you're aware of what techniques are generally helpful to producing good tone. You mention that you're a beginner but don't say how long you've been at it. Some ideas off the top of my head:
    •pick- if you're using a lighter pick, that could be the culprit. Mandolin's doubled courses at high tension really do better with thicker picks. 1.3-1.5mm seems to be the sweetspot for many. Along with this is pick angle, there's good YouTube videos on this.
    •setup- if your mandolin hasn't been set up by a professional who's well experienced in mandolins, it's worth the money. A good setup will be easier to note and can sound better too.
    •the instrument- have you listened to an experienced player play your Kentucky? Is it astoundingly better in his hands? Since you sound serious about this venture, there's a good chance you'll end up moving up to the next level of instruments eventually. Unfortunately for you, that's in the $2-3k zone. If your present mandolin is well set up and you sound way better on a better instrument, then that's change you need to consider.
    I'm using a Blue Chip TAD 60. That's 1.5mm of the neigh indestructible stuff that Blue Chip picks are made of. Next time I'm at The Music Emporium I intend to snag a Blue Chip CT 55.

    The mandolin was suppose to be set up by Elderly Instruments when I bought if from them. I had one of the mandolin coaches at the Jam Camp give my Kentucky a go, as I thought the action at the 12th fret was a tad high. He said it was borderline high, but I already knew, and he agreed, that the adjustable bridge was already down as far as it would go. So no easy fix there.

    I had given thought to getting my bridge feet shaved, but I decided to stick it out with my borderline instrument, and instead save my nickels & dimes & bottle caps & breakfast cereal box tops for an Eastman 515/v, or perhaps even an 815/v if I decide to go all in.
    Eastman MD-514 (F body, Sitka & maple, oval hole)
    Kentucky KM-250 (A body, spruce & maple, f holes)

    And still saving my nickles & dimes & bottle caps & breakfast cereal box tops for my lifetime mandolin.

  19. #14

    Default Re: Good Tone - How long does it actually take?

    Quote Originally Posted by Dan in NH View Post
    That's actually someone that Ellen from the Jam camp recommended. An hour drive, north or south, is a bit much, though.
    Dan, he may live closer to you than the store. I'd contact him through Facebook. If it still doesn't work for you, then he may know someone else closer to you, and there are always Zoom lessons. But the more you play with other people, at jams, or with friends, etc. the better you will get and your tone will develop from there.

    You might also try asking at the Manchester Music Mill. They may have a few names of teachers more local to you.
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  20. #15

    Default Re: Good Tone - How long does it actually take?

    I came up through classical pedagogy - wherein working on tone production is primary and foremost pursuit in everything we do with the instrument. In classical pedagogy, learning to play begins with tone production, from the very first moment we touch the instrument.

    I'm an ardent advocate of a "classical' approach in pedagogy. What it essentially consists in is a set of techniques to master and apply to any/every piece, exercise, and moment on the instrument - all executed as musically as possible. So we practice technical elements constantly, with constant correction for optimal tone. Scale studies - executed as musically as possible, every time.

    If you're not pleased by the sound you're making, I would suggest re-evaluating your approach. More scales and exercises aren't the solution in and of themselves, but rather the way you approach technical elements. More time practicing perhaps isn't the most efficacious way, but rather the quality of your practice should be considered. One scale, played slowly, perfectly and with optimal tone, always - before moving on to faster tempos, more scales, etc. Slow it down to where you can execute, before moving on. This may be a little boring - compared with learning a bunch of tunes, playing fast, etc, but it's how one assimilates fundamentals.

    *Folk idioms may be a little different in respect, but these principles can be applied.
    Last edited by catmandu2; Sep-18-2022 at 12:45pm.

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  22. #16
    Fingertips of leather Bill McCall's Avatar
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    Default Re: Good Tone - How long does it actually take?

    Quote Originally Posted by Dan in NH View Post
    ........So I'm running those scales, and doing those picking exercises, and running MORE scales. And it seems like when I go to play my fiddle tunes my tone is STILL awful.

    I console myself that I am still very much a beginner on mandolin. And it is unreasonable to expect a beginner to sound any way other than like a beginner.

    But how many months of running scales and doing exercises and playing fiddle tunes badly do you have to go through before you start to have consistent good tone?
    As is often said, it depends. And your question seems more like 'how long until I'm the musician I want to be?'

    You're the judge of your practice, so comparing how you play your scales versus your fiddle tunes is a critical component. Do you record your sessions? Do you play both at the same speed? Do you play each with dynamics? Is there a difference?

    Scales are fairly simple exercises versus the changing rhythms and fingering/picking challenges of tunes. Do you devote equal time to 1 scale and 1 tune, adjusted for the difference of 8 notes versus (probably) 32 bars? Tunes are a lot more complex and challenging, so mastering 1 is much more difficult than mastering a scale.

    Scales are fine for many purposes, but only part of what you learn is transferable to music. You probably don't change the rhythm of your scales and play them out of order, ie, folded with string crossings, but those two items are required in music.

    I used similar logic to your scale work when I was learning chords on my 5 string. I diligently practiced the diatonic chords 4,7,3,6,2,5,1 in all 12 keys and got reasonably proficient in fingering the chords at a moderate tempo. Fell apart in jams when reading the changes on tunes because tunes have surprises that don't follow that pattern

    Be comfortable at playing as well as you can at your level, and if you're diligent and patient, you'll play better down the road. That's my hope for myself anyway.
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    Default Re: Good Tone - How long does it actually take?

    What helped me was to consciously prioritize tone over repertoire and speed. Focus on one or two tunes, keep playing them and adjusting technique until you get close to the tone quality you are striving for. Try different grips, attacks and picks. It may feel like you are spinning your wheels, but over time this made a big difference for me.
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    Default Re: Good Tone - How long does it actually take?

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill McCall View Post
    ... Scales are fine for many purposes, but only part of what you learn is transferable to music. You probably don't change the rhythm of your scales and play them out of order, ie, folded with string crossings, but those two items are required in music ...
    This is something I hope to point out, that we really strive to diminish the 'boundary' between: 'scale exercise' and 'music': The whole time we practice 'scales' we are thinking 'music;' devising different technical exercises using intervallic series, relationships, combinations, dynamics, cadences, etc throughout; making rote scalar practice as musical as possible. For what are these 'tunes' other than arrangements of these scalar elements in interesting fashion? Studying Bach is a particularly gratifying way to enjoy scalar study. Something we do often is isolate a section of a piece of scored music and work it to death - taking 'music' and making technical exercise of it.

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    Default Re: Good Tone - How long does it actually take?

    I think good tone starts when you stop thinking about the execution of playing and start thinking about tone, meaning learn to play so you don't have to think about it (too much) .
    Every note is as important as any others and all notes should have "good tone".
    While its important to fret cleanly and on the correct place on the fret board, tone is very much a right hand thing, the pick you use and the technique of striking the strings.

    While good tone can be generated out of almost any instrument, a good quality instrument with a proper setup ( bridge adjustment and nut, dressed frets, the strings themselves) will help.

    Some lucky folks do this from day 1, for me it took many years and I'm still trying to make "good tone".

    while this might be an overstatement - its better to play twinkle twinkle little star excellently than to play Bach mediocre.
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    Registered User Chris Fannin's Avatar
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    Default Re: Good Tone - How long does it actually take?

    Try recording yourself playing and then listen to it. I'm pretty new too but I do that a lot... practice, play, record, listen, repeat.
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    Registered User Charlie Bernstein's Avatar
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    Default Re: Good Tone - How long does it actually take?

    Tone? I don't think about it. I found a mando that sounds the way I want one to sound. I do my best with it and let the tone fend for itself.

    I have a mando, acoustic guitars, and solid-body electric guitars. With solid-body electrics, it's a simple matter of ingredients: good parts in = good sound out. And the amp's tone is much more important than the guitar's tone. Given the choice of (a) a great amp and okay guitar versus (b) a great guitar and okay amp, most electric players will go for a great amp. Pickups and wood matter a lot, but the amp is where eighty percent of the tone is.

    With my acoustic instruments, the only one that doesn't sound fine is my squareneck reso, and that's just because my playing is atrocious. If I ever get more proficient, the sound should take care of itself. If it doesn't, that's when I'll know I need a different squareneck.
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  28. #22

    Default Re: Good Tone - How long does it actually take?

    The biggest turning point for me was, without a doubt, starting with right hand ONLY exercises. I would set the metronome and do 1/4 notes, followed by 1/8 notes, followed by 1/16 notes, follow by crosspicking and maybe some other variations up and down the strings. I would focus on doing rest strokes where I struck all the way through both strings and gradually sped up the metronome. This alleviates the need to think about your left hand and what it has to do or remember which notes you need to find. You are simply striking the strings listening for the best, fat, clear tone and modifying as necessary. Then you can follow up with scales, tunes, etc. Do this right when you pickup your instrument for 10 minutes or for as long as you can stand for the next few months and I absolutely guarantee you will see results or your money back.

  29. #23

    Default Re: Good Tone - How long does it actually take?

    Quote Originally Posted by Dan in NH View Post
    I'm using a Blue Chip TAD 60. That's 1.5mm of the neigh indestructible stuff that Blue Chip picks are made of. Next time I'm at The Music Emporium I intend to snag a Blue Chip CT 55.

    The mandolin was suppose to be set up by Elderly Instruments when I bought if from them. I had one of the mandolin coaches at the Jam Camp give my Kentucky a go, as I thought the action at the 12th fret was a tad high. He said it was borderline high, but I already knew, and he agreed, that the adjustable bridge was already down as far as it would go. So no easy fix there.

    I had given thought to getting my bridge feet shaved, but I decided to stick it out with my borderline instrument, and instead save my nickels & dimes & bottle caps & breakfast cereal box tops for an Eastman 515/v, or perhaps even an 815/v if I decide to go all in.
    Well, picks are definitely not the issue then. TAD60 and CT55 are my go to picks. One other possibility is bridge fitment. If it's not fitted really well to the top, the tone will be thinner. If a piece of paper slides between the bridge feet and the top anywhere, it probably needs work. I've also replaced cheaper bridges with ones from Cumberland Acoustics and always improved the tone. With your Kentucky, money maybe better spent on saving for a better instrument.

    That Eastman 515 is a lot of sound for the money. The tuners are notoriously cantankerous though, so plan an upgrade with your purchase.

  30. #24
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    Default Re: Good Tone - How long does it actually take?

    Quote Originally Posted by Rob Roy View Post
    That Eastman 515 is a lot of sound for the money. The tuners are notoriously cantankerous though, so plan an upgrade with your purchase.
    You just made a valid case to jump to the 815/v.

  31. #25
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    Default Re: Good Tone - How long does it actually take?

    Way over 50% of tone comes from the player's hands and fingers. And it is BOTH HANDS. Too often the fretting fingers are not given enough attention.

    I did a workshop at Kaufman's Kamp back in 2002 on "tone". I must have had at least 20 variables/aspects listed on the blackboards. I did a a multi-instructor panel on the subject, and I was rather shocked that one big name guy was oblivious to some of the aspects of tone that I brought up.

    But if really want TONE, having full control of the length/volume of the notes, start thinking about taking up fiddle/viola, flutes or other wind instruments.

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